Relief Should Follow the Person

United States Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa wrote, “Congress passed a $51.8 billion disaster assistance package in early September to get immediate relief to the devastated region. As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, I also am advancing a bipartisan package of legislative tools to help displaced residents of the Gulf Coast regain a good quality of Life…my bill would provide financial assistance and access to health care services, targeting the most vulnerable citizens, including low-income families.” Emergency Health Care Relief Act of 2005—United States Senator Chuck Grassley is the Chairman of the Committee on Finance.

My wife and I were fortunate enough to have visited the Gulf Coast area before it was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. We arrived in Gulf Port on August 21, 2005 our 12 year wedding anniversary date. The whole time we stayed there, the heat index was at one-hundred and seven degrees. Since neither Nancy nor I drive because of our disabilities, we knew about the bus service in the area. But it was too hot for my dog to walk the distance from our hotel to the bus stop during the day. Our hotel offered us door-to-door service in an air conditioned van as long as we visited places within a five mile radius of our hotel.

On the evening of our arrival, a trip to a restaurant brought us some unexpected good luck. Our waitress, Cheryl Rodolfich, befriended us and insisted on showing us around the beautiful sites of Biloxi, Gulf Port and Ocean Springs. Two days later, in her air conditioned van, Nancy and I were amazed at her generosity as she gave up more than six hours on her day off from work to drive us around the Gulf Coast region. It is one thing to do this for friends, but it is quite another thing to do this for strangers. I believe Cheryl’s graciousness was more then just southern hospitality, but more like that of simple trust in faith to do what she thought was the good thing to do for other people.

Many of the sites Cheryl showed us were, within a week, either flattened by Katrina or so damaged that the only option was to tear down what little was left of such buildings.

The hurricane force winds drove the water on shore and the water swallowed buildings and buried highways.

Cheryl became a displaced waitress because of Hurricane Katrina. She shared part of her story with me about how Hurricane Katrina’s devastation along the Gulf Coast region turned her family’s life upside down.

Her husband John, a firefighter with the Biloxi Fire Department, wanted Cheryl to take their two children and evacuate east. John had to stay behind to help his fellow firefighters carry out rescue missions during and after Katrina stormed ashore. On August 28, 2005 Cheryl, her friend Danny, and her two children along with two dogs finally left Biloxi as they evacuated east to Florida. They were, however, almost trapped by Hurricane Katrina as they drove east. Their drive to Florida was slow and the weather began to get bad, raining hard with a lot of wind. Cheryl did what many of us would have done in such a situation, she prayed. She was low on gas and it wasn’t until 12 hours later that they were able to get a full tank of gas. While Cheryl and companions evacuated east, her husband John stood in water up to his neck rescuing people to dry ground.

On September 2, 2005, as Cheryl looked over the damage to her community for the first time, she saw that her house “was still standing” but it was flooded with “two feet of water.” The area was “very dirty” and there were downed “power lines.” Cheryl noted “every-body’s belongings” were scattered “all over the streets.” Cheryl said the air “smelled of death and destruction.”

Senator Grassley’s bill to assist disabled people in the long term reconstruction of the Gulf Coast region is right, good and necessary. Elderly, disabled and poor people were especially affected by the storms direct wrath because they could not flee. How much of the fifty-one billion dollars in Senator Grassley’s relief bill will go to provide jobs and training to disabled people in the Gulf Coast region who survived the storms? How will Senator Grassley’s bill help to prevent a future tragedy like that which befell disabled people in the New Orleans stadium? And how will this bill help disabled people rebuild their homes as well as assist with the mental health of people in the long-term reconstruction of the Gulf Coast region?

After Katrina destroyed the electrical power sources, among other things, disabled people were among the thousands who had to endure these harsh conditions. To live amidst such devastation without any way to keep cool or to get clean drinking water is an incredible disaster in itself. For people who use walkers or wheelchairs, such a condition made survival under such circumstances more precarious.

About one-hundred thousand square miles of the Gulf Coast region was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. It will take action by the United States government to come up with creative ways hurricane victims can clean up their homes, if at all possible. The wind driven water brought with it contaminates that were left behind as the water receded. But along with such contaminants that were deposited by the storm surge, conditions were also right for mold growth.

The effect of mold growth is cause for long-term health concerns. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), “There are several sources of guidance on how to respond to mold. Determining when a remediation effort is warranted or when it is successful is subjective because there are no generally accepted health-based standards for acceptable concentrations of fungal spores, hyphae, or metabolites in the air or on surfaces. Very few studies have been conducted on the effectiveness of remediation actions in eliminating problematic mold contamination in the short and long term and on the effect of remediation actions on the health of building occupants.

The CDC stated, “The best way to get rid of mold growth is to remove it from materials that can be effectively cleaned and to discard materials that cannot be cleaned or are physically damaged beyond use. Persons with respiratory conditions, allergies, asthma, or weakened immune systems should not attempt mold cleanup…”

One of John and Cheryl’s children has asthma, and her medication has helped her from succumbing to the effects of mold. But their house, undoubtedly, will need to be rebuilt. Currently, the Rodolfich family, like so many hurricane victims, lives in a loaned FEMA trailer until their house is rebuilt. There are thousands of other people who are still waiting for a FEMA trailer, and some of these people have to cope with the current environment with little or nothing but uncertainty. It will take many years or perhaps several decades for the people of the Gulf Coast region to recover from the physical and emotional damage caused by this terrible series of storms.

According to Senator Grassley, “It will take years and billions of dollars to repair the public infrastructure, from transit systems to sewage treatment facilities, schools, hospitals and flood protection systems.” The residents of the Gulf Coast will need our help for years to come, and below are some ways you can help.

Contact the Katrina Resources Minnesota Coalition to Aid Hurricane Katrina Survivors set up with the participation of Minnesota and Wisconsin Greens at www.mncahs.org/

A hotline is open for Hurricane Katrina disaster response. Minnesotans can contact the State Emergency Operations Center hotline for information about the Hurricane Katrina disaster response. The following hotlines have been established for people seeking information: 651-297-1304, metro area; 800-657-3504, non-metro; 800-657-3822, TTY; people who do not have access to a TTY machine may call 711.

To contact Senator Chuck Grassley, write to him at this address: 135 Hart Senate Bldg, Washington, DC 20510-1501 or call 202-224-3744.

For more info on the Center for Disease Control’s reports on mold cleanup and prevention, visit www.CDC.gov.

Clarence Schadegg is a regular columnist for Access Press who writes about his personal experiences as a blind disabled person and how these experiences interact with issues that face the greater population. He can be reached by e-mail at cschadegg@mn.rr.com or by phone 612-798-5178